Radio frequency identification (RFID) is often touted as a “bar code on steroids,” but that description belies the real potential of the technology. RFID provides all of the automated identification and data capture benefits of bar codes, with the added ability to store more data, operate in extreme environments, and to work even when the tag isn’t visible or when operators aren’t connected to a network. Those capabilities can enable new types of automation, tracking, and asset management applications that were not previously possible. For example:
RFID Works Where People Can’t. Tracking assets and other goods using bar code labels is all well and good when you are, for instance, tracking a box through a warehouse. But if you are trying to track items that are flowing through a paint booth, an autoclave, a chemical wash, or other harsh production process, a rugged RFID tag can function where bar codes and labels would fail and where employees simply can’t go. With that type of tracking, processes that take place in harsh environments can be easily automated.
Every RFID tag has a unique identity. An Electronic Product Code (EPC) is a universal identifier that gives a unique identity to a specific physical object. This identity is designed to be unique among all physical objects and therefore RFID tags can assign a unique code to each item that it is assigned to. RFID tags include a unique code, which makes every RFID label individual, meaning that each item can be recognized as an individual instead of just recognizing a product type.
Data Travels With the Asset. Traditional linear bar codes include a serial number that must be linked back to a database somewhere in order to provide any useful information. RFID tags have larger data capacities (high memory tags are available that can sort up to 32kb of data), which allows users to encode useful data right on the tag that can be accessed even if the reader isn’t connected to the network or a back-end database. The data on the tag is also rewritable, so you can update the tag data on the fly or in the field.
Size Doesn’t Matter, Speed Does. Bar code labels have a downward limit on print size. License plate style bar codes can be fairly long and take up a lot of real estate, which makes them impractical for tracking very small items. Two-dimensional bar codes can be printed or etched in significantly smaller areas, but still require some real estate to be printed on. While RFID tags can present similar challenges to smaller assets, there are now tags available that can be embedded into products without impacting their structure or size. Xerafy’s tiny embeddable tags can be easily flush-mounted in metal objects. More importantly, the average count speed with RFID is 25 000 items per hour whereas with traditional barcode scanning we are talking about roughly 250 items per hour.
No Line of Sight Required. While bar codes are relatively inexpensive and easy to produce, they have another significant limitation — the scanner has to “see” the code in order to scan it. That means the bar code has to be on the outside of the asset or product, and located in a place that is easily accessible and provides line-of-sight viewing. RFID tags, on the other hand, can be read simultaneously together from afar with no line-of-sight requirement and from any direction, or conversely, can pass by a reader in any orientation and still provide fast, accurate data.